About the site
Most of Trelyon Downs and Cock Hill was probably heathland in medieval times. This would have created ideal conditions for heathland flora and fauna; gorse would have been particularly favoured for fuel.
The woods are believed to have been managed as a woodland pasture (groups of trees interspersed with grassland) before the gaps were planted up to form a continuous woodland in the 19th Century. Many of the mature beech and hornbeam trees show signs of having been cut (coppiced or pollarded), and would have provided valuable timber for a wide range of uses.
Within boundaries of the Steeple Woodlands Nature Reserve are several old tin mines. The oldest of these are in the mature woodland to the northwest of Steeple Lane, where there is a line of shafts and deep open pits called gunnises, running approximately northeast-southwest. These belong to the St. Aubyn Tregenna mine, otherwise known as Wheal King. Mining historians have identified this little mine as being Elizabethan in age from the style of the workings. A lone miner nicknamed Breeches is also said to have worked the mine in the 1920’s. The line of shafts and pits extends northeast, beyond the boundary of the reserve, and in the 1950’s there was a capped shaft accessible on a ridge of mine waste behind the recently built house ‘September’.
Along with Wheal King, there were two other little mines nearby, Wheal Queen and Wheal Prince, although the location of these two mines is not known precisely.
The largest of the mines in the nature reserve, although still quite small by the standards of some Cornish mines, was Trelyon Consolidated, running down the east side Steeple Lane. Read more about the local history of the Trelyon Consolidated mine here.
Granite was quarried on Cock Hill up until the early 20th Century, used as a building stone in St.Ives and elsewhere.
As the Rhododendron has been cleared, other evidence of the site's past has been gradually revealed, including old stone walls, marker stones engraved with lettering or numbers and also granite blocks showing drill holes where they were split during the quarrying activity. Thanks to the Rhododendron clearance, the site of a former reservoir is now clearly visible. Local sources have described how several decades ago it had been grassed over and used as a cricket pitch, before becoming colonised by dense Rhododendron. Today it is again an open area containing only a few native trees and it has been the ideal venue for the project group's open day each summer since 2008.
The Steeple was built in 1782 as a mausoleum for the Customs Officer John Knill, though in fact he wasn't buried there. As well as leaving us the monument itself, Knill has kept his memory alive by instigating a curious community ceremony which takes place there every 5 years (see the John Knill page for more details).